The world of publishing is complex and varied; between vanity publishing and commercial publishing, the tradition of publishing in modern times has no choice but to change with addition and evolution of technology. Hopeful writers have often found themselves sitting under a pile of rejection slips from commercial publishers who do not identify their writing as profitable. Enter the genre of self-publishing: this arm of publishing has been available for centuries but has lacked the validity of traditional publishing, often stigmatized in the writing community as “vanity” publishing. However, new and lucrative opportunities in self-publishing have been realized with the advent of the internet, and with it, self-publishing is finding new regard and credibility as a profitable way for authors to publish their work, retain creative rights, and create reliable or infrequently, impressive income. Could this be the best of both worlds? The perspective that self-publishing was once called “vanity publishing” for a reason, has its valid points as well. Anyone can pay to have a subpar novel published, but those few self-published authors that find eventual commercial success through preliminary self-publishing remain fully in control of their editing and creative ownership.
There are distinct disadvantages to true self-publishing. Authors who self-publish are required to do their own editing, marketing, and book-keeping. The editing barrier plays a key part in legitimizing that accomplishment because experienced editing not only minimizes amateurish mistakes but also helps weed out amateurish products rife with incoherence and irrelevance (Camacho, 2013, p. 331). That being said, authors with resources can hire editors to keep pace with traditional publishing perks. Editors play the crucial role of deciphering the meaning that authors wish to convey and rendering it accessible to a wider public in a coherent manner (Carolan & Evain, 2013). Authors can hire design specialists to create cover work equivalent to that composed at traditional publishing houses. E-publishing directly carries the disadvantages of some methods of self-publishing, as well; however, some authors are finding the benefits outweigh those disadvantages. While some are concerned about oversaturation in the e-publishing market, due to lack of gate-keeping and the duplicitous market strategy that some newer self-publishing service providers have come up with in order to attract client authors who are willing to pay to publish on their specific platforms for nominal fees and even more nominal readership. Traditional publishers have begun to tap the market of self-publishing, thereby securing possible profits of self-publishing ventures, by acquiring publishing arms that cater to the self-published author (Herther, 2013). For a fee, these companies offer sophisticated platforms that help hopeful authors format their work for e-distribution. Self-publishing platforms such as Amazon’s CreateSpace offer ala’ carte options for additional cost (Yanulavich, 2014, p. 12).
In a 2013 article, Editor-in-Chief of Poets & Writers, Inc, Kevin Larimer, interviewed self-published author Jennifer Ciotta about the pitfalls of self-publishing. Ciotta offered advice to fellow writers who hope to make income from self-publishing, “don’t compete with the traditionally published authors. As a self published author in today’s industry you can’t get reviews from certain newspapers and magazines, you can’t get your book in many bookstores and a lot of media outlets won’t put you on their radio and TV shows.” So far this portion of the industry is inaccessible, so these authors should redouble their efforts on what they can influence, such as editing, superior cover artwork, and self-marketing (Larimer, 2013). Also, many writing awards still limit submissions to traditional publishing. In regard to marketing, self-published authors now have accessibility to creating their own websites for free or nominal costs and can utilize SEO (search engine optimization) techniques in order to get their information to appear more frequently in top keyword search hits. Public relations firms specializing in gaining limelight for clients are emerging to close the gap in self promotion. As for book-keeping, the smart self-published author will keep close records on sales, profits, and hire tax professionals to make sure the appropriate amount of money is set aside to pay yearly taxes. At a certain point of success it would be wise to hire a business manager and/or a finance manager to handle investment opportunities and budgeting necessities.
A very important and moral facet of self-publishing is the issue of accessibility. Self-publishing guru, Richard Nash, writes most aptly that up to the 1950’s much of publishing was dominated by white Ivy League men, these same Ivy League men heading up publishing houses and publishing one another’s works. He postulates with the expansion of education has increased “the number of human beings who had read enough books to (a) want to read more, and (b) be able to imagine writing one themselves” (Nash, 2013). It’s important to realize the unimaginable amount of unpublished or lost ideas from writers who gave up on being published. These silent achievements, up until now, are sometimes lost forever — gone with them are ideas that can help society move forward as a whole.
Significant advances in “print on demand” equipment (POD), has allowed expedited production of quality, perfect bound books that are literally printed “on demand” and available for sale simultaneously (Haugland, 2006). No need to worry about finding space to hold vast amounts of personal book inventory, which used to be purchased large scale to incur price breaks on higher quantity printing because the combination of print and digital print technology has brought both the cost of production down to a reasonable price point and the time of print production and bindery down to a point where the author can collect front end sales before production even begins. This opportunity defrays the cost that self-published authors used to pay for the up-front costs of publishing themselves, and removes a barrier which could deter authors with brilliant ideas but lack of necessary income to realize their often fiscally thwarted ambitions of seeing their own works in print.
The successes of the self-published are the DIY underdog stories that make self-publishing a popular option to hopeful writers, especially those who’ve received myriad rejects from commercial publishing houses. The advantage to authors of electronic publishing is simple: wider distribution, more sales, and more money that comes directly to the author (Sumner, 2012, p. 1). However, successful self-publishing sales can also prove to springboard authors, who were refused by traditional publishers, into the mainstream publishing world. Acclaimed author James Redfield self-published The Celestine Prophecy and claims on his website that he personally gave away 1,500 copies to bookstores and individuals. Redfield attributes much of his success to word-of-mouth. Warner Books purchased the rights to the book, which remained on the New York Times Best Sellers list for over two years.
The now shockingly successful author of the steamy Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy first published her own work on fan fiction website (Wattpad) then compiled an e-book which sold mainly by word of mouth and social media. This kind of underground system of marketing is important to the genre of self-publishing in that it shows that the imagination and power of the public is intact and well. The Atlantic reported that this “first time author was offered 5 million dollars for the movie rights to her self-published book.” This is proof that self-publishing successes exist in every genre and actually might be more lucrative for certain genres than others. E-readers who might otherwise feel self-conscious about being seen buying or reading a trashy novel can do so relatively incognito (Fay, 2012). Obviously, this has nothing to do with the quality of prose within the novel, but mainstream success is more often measured by sales than by moral high ground. Scholarly publishing is also making a move towards digital publishing, if only because of the push to decrease the carbon footprint and decrease overall budgets. This measure often leads to cutting one’s print budget and increasing one’s digital footprint by using automated platforms like YUDU and 3DIssue to upload indexed PDF’s and has them outputted to a format readable on computer, tablet, and Smartphone. This move by scholarly and peer-reviewed journals might overflow credence to e-publishing by way of normalizing the industry.
It is hard to say where the future of publishing is headed. At this point, we know that self-publishing e-books is a supplementary part of publishing and self-publishing, because those who will read these formats need apparatus’ like computer, e-reader or smartphone in order to access information and so far less than half of the reading population owns such an item (Carreiro, 2010). So, traditional “book in hand” publishing is safe from obliteration from the means of e-publishing at the moment. Maintaining a sense of materiality and tangibility is still current to the industry (Szydłowska, 2013). However, because of new opportunities in e-publishing, self-publishing is gaining an accessibility that was previously unreachable with exception of those with money enough to subsidize their own vanity publishing aspirations. The successes of self-published authors is encouraging, not only for those authors who choose to continue to self-publish after success, but also to those who do wish to move on (I won’t say up) to a traditional publishing house. In regard to self-publishing, from Benjamin Franklin and Poor Richard’s Almanac to E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey; there is proof that self-publishing is not only necessary to the publishing industry as an alternative outlet to the discerning palate of traditional publishers, but perhaps to democracy itself. Let us not forget Thomas Paine’s self-published pamphlet Common Sense, helped spur the American Revolution. The freedoms we’re allotted in the United States are based widely on the freedom of speech, which is also essentially the freedom to write and to freely disseminate thought.
Cheryl L. Kennedy, PMP, is a writer, consultant, and professional project manager experienced in post-traditional higher education, fundraising, procurement, relationship management, multichannel communications, and event planning. She’s impassioned by the pursuit of lifelong learning and the study of English literature, endeavoring to cultivate and steward enthusiasm for early and continuing education in the humanities.
Contact Cheryl L. Kennedy @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/cherylrenkennedy
Camacho, J. D. (2013). Is the E-Reader Mightier? Direct Publishing and Entry Barriers. Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 327-340.
Carolan, S., & Evain, C. (2013). Self Publishing: Opportunities and Threats in a New Age of Mass Culture. Publishing Research Quarterly, 285-300.
Carreiro, E. (2010). Electronic Books: How Digital Developments and Supplementary New Technologies are Changing the Face of the Publishing Industry. Publishing Research Quarterly, 219-235.
Haugland, A. (2006). Opening the Gates: Print On-Demand Publishing as Cultural Production. Publishing Research Quarterly, 3-16.
Herther, N. K. (2013). Today’s Self-Publishing Gold Rush Complicates Distribution Channels. Online Searcher , 22-26.
Larimer, K. (2013). Self-Publishing Perspectives: A Successful Author, Agent, and Publisher Discuss the Revolution in Progress. Poet & Writers, Inc., 66-75.
Nash, K. (2013). What is the Business of Literature? Virginia Quarterly Review, 14-27.
Sumner, D. (2012). How My Mind Has Changed About Vanity Publishing. Journal of Magazine and New Media Research, 1-3.
Szydłowska, A. (2013). Self-Publishing as Emancipation. Journal of Artists Books, 31-33.
Yanulavich, D. (2014). The Write Stuff: Self-publishing Offers Authors New Options and Expanded Roles in the Digital Age. Live & Learn: Excelsior College Magazine, 10-13.